QLD: safety warning about falling building materials

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 11 January, 2021 - 12:15
Policy & legislation

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recently issued an alert following an incident in which glass balustrading from a high-rise balcony shattered and fell onto a ground-level building access way.

Initial enquiries indicate building rectification work was being done on the balcony at the time, and no injuries were reported.

While investigations are continuing into the exact cause of the incident, the alert said objects have the potential to fall onto or hit people at the workplace or adjoining areas if precautions are not taken.

Adjoining areas could include public footpaths, roads, or yards/spaces of properties next to a workplace.

Examples include an object free-falling from a structure, such as:

  • roof scaffolding, tools, rock, soil and bricks
  • fixtures including pictures, ceiling panels and whiteboards that have not been securely fixed, and
  • materials that fall from over stacked shelving.

The alert said the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage the risks associated with falling objects, and risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business.

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process and involves four steps, which are: identifying hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks and reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective.

When assessing the risks arising from a potential falling object hazard, things you should consider assessing include, but are not limited to:

  • the design and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall
  • the number and movement of all people at the workplace
  • how close people are to unsafe areas where loads are placed on elevated working areas or where work is to be carried out at an elevated area and there is a risk of falling objects

Once the risks have been assessed the next step is to control risks. Control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control.

Duty holders must work through this hierarchy to choose the controls which most effectively eliminate or, where this is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks.

Effective control measures are often made up of a combination of controls, and common risk control measures can include, but are not limited to:

  • Using secure impassable barricades to prevent unauthorised pedestrian or vehicular access to an exclusion zone. They should be highly visible and securely fixed to prevent displacement. The exclusion zone should extend horizontally to a safe distance beyond the overhead work area.
  • Using a catch platform to catch any falling objects.

If risks remain, the alert said this must be further minimised by implementing administrative controls and implementing a safe system of work to address falling objects that can include:

  • using exclusion zone signage
  • providing supervision of exclusion zones so that no unauthorised person enters
  • providing information, training and instruction to workers and others at the workplace advising them of the exclusion zones in place
  • developing safe work procedures that describe the task, identify the hazards and document how the task is to be performed to minimise any risks associated with falling objects
  • organising and sequencing of work tasks - you can sequence jobs so that different trades are not working above or below each other at the same time

Depending on the task, any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment, for example: hard hats; gloves; protective footwear; eye protection; hearing protection; high visibility clothing.

Adopting and implementing higher-order controls before considering administrative or PPE controls will significantly reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring.